building better donor relationships

Through the introduction of text-to-give, social media fundraising, and online giving, combined with the chance to reach thousands of your targeted demographic with $20 in Facebook ads, people wonder if the time-consuming efforts of getting to “Know-thy-donor” and relationship building are still worth it.

Can’t an organization raise more just promoting itself all over the internet?

Thanks in part to a statement by President (then candidate) Obama in a debate with Hilary Clinton for the 2008 election, people think that all of their donations can come from digital giving. In his statement, the President alluded that the majority of his gifts came from online individual gifts of around $50 (an average gift of $109). The truth is that Obama out-raised any presidential candidate in the category of <$200 gifts, but at-most it represented about a third of his campaign funds. However, that did represent about 90% of his donors, which I think is true for many organizations.

Digital giving is just one tool in your arsenal; one of many to help you regularly exceed your goals. When new tools become available, rarely do they replace any current tools. They may help you adapt to reach a new segment of your donor population. The relationships you build and focus on most likely represent one of two groups: 1) those that currently give and represent the top third of your donors; or 2) they are a conduit to those that represent the people that belong in group 1.

To make sure those relationships are most fruitful, here are some quick pieces of advice:

1. No more “YOUR” donors (or no more, “MY” donors)

I have had the privilege to get to know many organizations, none of which pay their fundraisers commissions for the amount of money they raise. That being said, no one person owns the relationship with a donor (are you cringing?). The donor needs to have a relationship with the organization, not an individual. I have heard board members and executive directors complain about how this fundraiser or that fundraiser stole their donors and took them to another organization. When I start asking questions I discover that the fundraiser accused could never get participation to meet with donors from program staff, leadership, or board members. Help your fundraisers build a relationship with the donor and the organization. When a donor has multiple relationships within an organization, it is difficult for them to abandon those relationships. When someone leaves the organization, they may add your donor as a supporter of the new organization, but if there is a true relationship with others in the organization, they won’t stop giving to your organization. That it is why it is important to use a donor database regularly and effectively. The more information entered by more people helps the organization to benefit by the multiple relationships with a donor.

2. Major gift donors are investors

Those donors that fall into the major donor category rarely started there. Most of the time, they gave a small gift to see how your organization would engage them, or they came to an event and learned about your organization and found it worthy. Organizations lose ¾ of their first time donors due to poor follow-through and engagement. Since online donors often are made up of first-time donors, this means you are constantly hunting for new online donors for less than a 1/3 of your budget. Why is this important? Major donors often have invested time in researching your organization to make sure it is worthy of their gift. They are also more likely to give annually and repeatedly due to their investment. Whereas online donors often only invest time enough to click the donate button and complete their online giving form.

3. Communicate Impact

Regardless if we are talking major donors or online donors, you have a greater chance of keeping them as donors if you regularly share how their donations are impacting your organization and the community they serve. Make sure your communication is relevant to all donation levels. Whether you talk about it in what a $20 gift can do for your community or the 1062 gifts totaling $99,000 that supported program X. It is important to share how donors are helping the organization to achieve its mission. You can take it a step further and send the same communication, with a sentence or two tweaked based on donor segmentation.

The more you can engage your donors and learn their connection and interest in your organization the better you, other staff, and volunteers can share the impact of an individual’s support.

What gets me most excited is when I see the results of a well-executed stewardship and cultivation plan. If I can help your organization understand the value of ideas like personal touches (for major donors there should be at least 5 between ask) and donor segmentation, please get in touch.

Patrick Belcher

Patrick Belcher

Principal Strategist at PB&J marComm
Patrick brings his nearly 20 years of sales leadership to the field of fundraising. He helps non-profits develop fundraising infrastructure and strategy that will help them to be successful and sustainable. Through practical solutions and strategy, Patrick has helped many organizations increase results, improve their donor relationships, and fulfill their mission.